The Road Ahead After 2004: Building a Broad Nonpartisan Alliance Against Bush and the Far Right
By Carl Davidson & Marilyn Katz

Bringing in the Harvest

What is the most important thing about fruits? We have to harvest them. If we don't harvest them, if we just leave them in the fields or on the ground, shame on us! If we don't consolidate these gains, all of our ultraleft critics who opposed the election as a big diversion will be largely correct. If we allow all these gains to slip through our fingers, we will have been little more than a tail on the Democratic Party.
We have to find new ways to consolidate these gains into new and stronger forms of organization.

We have a good start in Chicago, because we were community-based to begin with and the work we did during the elections just strengthened that base. We used the opportunity of the elections to enhance peoples’ organizing skills – and there’s nothing like door-to-door leafleting or doing voter registration on the issues to sharpen those skills. Our deputy registrar trainings, development of voter lists, even our coalition work added to mailing and phone lists, which in turn were used to recruit people to participate in everything from antiwar rallies and voter registration to trips to neighboring states. And in fact CAWI’s consistent identification with both the issues and the elections meant that at our first post-election meeting, we had nearly 40 new people in our core group. We are clearly a pole of attraction in our area.

But if we are going to consolidate our gains and move forward, we also have to be bolder and more visionary about our prospects for the future. We especially have to be creative in fashioning new instruments and programs for social change. In Chicago – and we hope elsewhere, we think it is time to build on what we have done and create a new organization – one that is:

1) Rooted in the anti-war politics that spurred the creation of CAWI (and other entities) and will continue to give it energy, but over time manages to develop a more holistic vision;

2) Committed to grass-roots organizing on issues, particularly the war, but with a willingness to work both within and outside the electoral arena, recognizing that there is strength in ‘walking on both feet’.

3) Value-based and nonpartisan by design, with a willingness to work with progressive issues and candidates within and outside of the Democratic Party, the Greens and others.

4) Local in origins but aggressively works to create a national federation of groups with similar interests and strategies.

5) A poll of attraction and center for people whatever their level of activity. Activists may be at its core, but our experience tells us that it is important to create spaces where people can participate at their own level.

This is the context of both our electoral work and our prospects for mass direct action. How, then, do we build the new forms of organization appropriate to the tasks at hand? Here’s how we would elaborate on the key points:

We need to be value-centered. Our starting point is the idea of expanding the core values of peace, justice and democracy in the political, economic and social spheres. We are not candidate-centered, single-issue centered or party-centered. Our commitment is to finding the ways to translate our core values into effective programs, sustainable policies and life-enhancing changes here and around the world. We are not anti-capitalist, anti-socialist or even necessarily anti-corporate. We understand that meaningful and gainful employment, the anchor of a decent livelihood, requires the high-road expansion of high-value, high-skill productive industry and wealth creation, even as we oppose the race-to-the-bottom rapaciousness of low-road corporate raiders and polluters. We thus seek allies in all classes in society.

We need grassroots participation. Our organizations must be community-centered. They must be neighborhood based, workplace based, faith based and school based. We need thousands upon thousands of local activists and supporters. They must be independent with their own finances, donors and resources. It is not sufficient simply to make “coalitions of letterhead advisory boards” that represent millions of people on paper but can’t get more than a hundred or so folks in the streets or a handful of volunteers at events. This requires a practice of mass action in the streets as well as electoral activity. It also requires a commitment to diversity, tolerance, non-sectarianism, and a democratic style of working with people who agree on some issues but disagree on others.

We need to be nonpartisan and seek broad alliances. Just ending the war in Iraq will require a tremendous mobilization of progressive forces, winning over of moderate forces and isolating Bush and his Neocon hegemonists. It will also require the defeat of pro-war forces in both major parties. Likewise, electoral reform is going to require the participation of Greens, Libertarians, Progressive Democrats, Civil Libertarian Republicans, the fledgling Labor Party and other minor parties and political independents.

Nonpartisan alliances are not new to American politics. In the early part of the 1900s through the 1920s, the Nonpartisan Leagues were formed throughout the Midwest, from Wisconsin to the Rockies. They rallied the rural population against the Robber Barons and railroad owners by running their own candidates, as well as running slates of NPL candidates in both Democratic and Republican primaries. They managed to take over several state legislatures and win important reforms as a result.

Today, the GOP rightists are pursuing their own broad ‘encirclement’ alliance of uniting the rural areas, winning over the suburbs, and dividing the urban centers by appealing to a new version of “white male identity politics.” We need to oppose it with a counter-hegemonic, broad alliance of our own that exists as a new organization. We can call it the Progressive Nonpartisan Alliance of Illinois, Progressive Illinois, the Network of Peace and Justice Voters of Illinois, or whatever. The concept is what is important, but serious workers and serious funding must be found to start growing it now. Finally, by starting it here, we will be in the best position to use it as an example or ally of similar efforts across the country. In this way, we can prepare for 2006, where we can selectively work to defeat pro-war candidates and elect antiwar candidates.

We need to keep our ability to focus. We can connect and relate to a wide range of issues, but we need to keep our focus on the critical issues that brought us into being in the first place. This is primarily ending the war in Iraq, opposing wider war elsewhere, and opposing the impact of war, especially its racist and chauvinist threats to democratic rights, on the home front. We are most effective as a broad front against Bush and the policies of his War Party, rather than as an anti-imperialist bloc that equally takes up every conflict or issue against all Republicans and Democrats.

David Frum, one of Bush’s top speechwriters, has an interesting piece in the Nov 9 Wall Street Journal in this regard. He fretted about ‘ferocious partisan dissension’ hurting the war effort; but if we are wise tactically, we are in a good position to expand this dissension, and likewise oppose all the ‘bipartisan reaching out’ and ‘healing the wounds’ rhetoric coming from the DLC types. Frum’s also upset about Bush’s opponents possibly taking advantage of the ‘inevitable mistakes’ in war; but we are also in a good position to do just that. Finally, he worried about ‘partisan wrangling’ when much of the Patriot Act come up next year; but we have the ability to encourage ‘partisan wrangling’ over the Patriot Act and work to change and repeal at least some of its worse features. More >>


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